For the most part, hockey movies have been treated the same every other sports comedy or drama — with an underdog story and plenty of in-game footage. Enter “Goon,” a comedy that depicts the sport for all the guts and little of the glory. Not since “Slap Shot” has a hockey flick been this violent and verbally assaultive.
Sean William Scott stars as Doug “The Thug” Glatt, only Doug is anything but his new moniker. Big and meaty on the outside, Doug’s a veritable teddy bear — soft-spoken and loyal. His fists, on the other hand, are considerably more audible.
After a D-league hockey player climbs out of the box to go after his friend, Ryan (Jay Baruchel), Doug knocks him out cold and catches the eye of the team’s coach. Despite not being able to skate, the team brings him on as the enforcer, the guy sent out on the ice to rough other players up to retaliate for dirty hits.
In hockey, all teams bring in more aggressive players whose skills consist of picking fights, checking bodies into the boards and if they’re lucky, causing problems in front of the net. “Goon” attempts to examine what being that kind of role player is all about, and it’s not pretty.
With a screenplay from Baruchel and buddy Evan Goldberg who wrote “Superbad” and “The Green Hornet” with Seth Rogen (among other films), “Goon” is mainstream funny with an indie sensibility. When Doug signs a minor-league farm system contract with a team in Halifax, the cast of absurd characters triples as his new teammates are straight up degenerates. The crude humor that follows echoes the thankless, dirty, unfiltered nature of the sport, or at least the aspect that “Goon” wants to tap into.
“Goon” starts to get a little aimless despite the improved humor once Doug and the Halifax Highlanders try and turn things around. His only motivation is to come into his own, as his family of Jewish doctors doesn’t approve of his new career. He has a love interest named Eva (Alison Pill), a teammate who hates him named Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) and then there’s a veteran enforcer on the verge of retiring named Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) whom he appears destined to cross paths with by the end of the film.
Doug fancies the idea of being an actual hockey player, not a goon, and that seems to be the driving question of this chunk of the movie. LaFlamme was supposed to be the next big thing before Rhea knocked him out cold in a pro game, and the would-be super star has never been the same player (not to mentioned resorting to doing blow off of hookers’ backs). Doug is headed in the opposite direction, so there’s a conflict there, but it doesn’t extend beyond the realm of the obvious fact that they need to work together.
Doug isn’t exactly a flawed protagonist either, unless naiveté is a flaw. He’s a saint compared to LaFlamme, and his entire relationship with Eva is about all of her problems because she has a boyfriend despite being really into sweet and innocent Doug. The two are adorable to watch, but their relationship has no bearing on the film and could’ve been cut entirely.
Schreiber knocks his part into the boards as Ross “The Boss” Rhea, a grislier, more hardened version of Doug, perhaps a future Doug should Doug take up Ross’ attitude toward the game. Schreiber give us a quiet but confident Canadian with a matter-of-fact sense of humor, a real transformation for the actor (who did live in Canada but when he was younger than five years old).
Director Michael Dowse makes the best of the loud, dirty an hilarious script and the great talent that came with it, not glorifying the language or the violence but still showcasing it in such a way that it defines the tone of the film. His opening shot of a splash of blood hitting in the ice in slow-motion captures the inherent tradition, humor and somewhat despicable nature of violence in hockey.
Directed by Michael Dowse
Written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith (book)
Starring: Sean William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber